Fighting the normalcy bias

David Webb

Gas pump sticker shock brings home some hard lessons we all need to learn

DAVID WEBB  |  The Rare Reporter

After months of ignoring it, sticker shock at the gas pump has finally registered in my consciousness. And that moment of enlightenment has led me to do a little research about economics.

I now know that I’ve been acting exactly how the experts predict the average consumer will when faced with an unprecedented personal experience.

It all started when I filled up my gas tank at a service station in Oak Lawn the other day, and the tab came to more than $60 for just a few drops more than 15 gallons.

It occurred to me as I drove off that using a credit card at self-service pumps could lead someone to be blindsided in a big way when the monthly bills arrive.

I drive a modest four-cylinder sedan, so I don’t even want to consider what people who drive big gas guzzlers are paying to fill up — not to mention the shock that could be in store for them at the end of the month.

To put things in perspective, I started driving when I was 14 and at that time — I’m talking about nearly a half-century ago — gas cost about 33 cents per gallon. If I’m figuring correctly, I think that’s about a 1,200 percent increase in my lifetime of driving.

Admittedly, talking about price increases that have occurred over a 50-year period, the increase might not seem so radical. But just a little over a decade ago, gas cost less than $2 per gallon. It cost me less than $30 to fill up a similar car’s gas tank back then.

If it were only gas that had increased in price, it might not seem like such a big deal. But everything that we require to go about our daily lives, such as groceries and clothes, has increased just as dramatically.

Even the price of beer, which one needs in order to cope with the stress of all the other high prices, has skyrocketed.

We’ve all been warned for a long time by people who lived through the Great Depression of the 1930s that hard times could be coming. But most of us never took those predictions seriously.

After my gas pump experience the other day my research revealed that my delayed awareness of the seriousness of the situation is not abnormal. In fact, it is a condition that is known as “normalcy bias.”

Basically, what that means is that if a person or group of people have never experienced a type of disaster or other traumatic experience, they tend to discount the possibility of it ever occurring.

I assume that’s why — despite the repeated warnings that prices for gas and everything else that depends on energy for its production and distribution would be going through the ceiling — that so many of us have ignored the threat.

It’s clearer to me today than it was a week ago that all of us could be on the brink of making some pretty severe changes in our lifestyle to cope with the economic hardships that appear to be on the horizon. Considering the numbers of people who are unemployed, surviving on food stamps or even homeless, there’s a real crisis out there that most of us just don’t fully comprehend.

What’s really scary is that all of the states and local governments are bankrupt and are quickly becoming unable to help support people who are in trouble. The federal government is in the same shape, and the dollar is losing its value quickly.

An even scarier scenario is that many people live beyond their means and amass big debts that will crush them should they become unemployed or lose a paycheck for any other reason.

Again, someone who has never lost a job or been unable to find one may not realize that it could indeed happen to them as well, according to the “normalcy bias” theory.

One of the examples of “normalcy bias” afflicting a whole group of people reportedly occurred in Germany in the 1930s when Jewish people who had lived in the country for generations failed to realize the dangers they faced from Adolph Hitler and his Nazi Party. These intelligent, affluent, accomplished and sophisticated people simply were unable to comprehend what was about to happen to them.

Some things are out of our direct, individual control as regards what could happen to the economy. But there is something that everyone probably needs to do in troubling times: I now remember financial experts on talk shows recently advising people to get out of debt, stay out of debt, start foregoing some luxuries, build a strong cash reserve to take care of basic needs and fill pantries with nonperishable foods.

Until my moment of awareness at the gas pump the other day, I might have considered such a plan to be a little alarmist, because like most people I know, I’ve never gone without anything. But that could change.

Now, it just seems like good common sense.

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative press for three decades. Email him at

—  John Wright

2011 Readers Voice Awards: Shop


Sewell Buick GMC

7474 Lemmon Ave. (and additional locations)
Open Monday–Saturday at 8 a.m.

Park Place Motorcars

6113 Lemmon Ave. (and additional locations)
Sales open Monday–Friday at 8:30 a.m.,
Saturday at 9 a.m.; service center open Monday–Friday
at 7 a.m., Saturday at 9 a.m.

There’s no denying that Dallas is a car city, especially when it comes to luxury autos. A game of “Punch Buggy” on the Tollway might leave you with nary a bruise, but a game of “Punch Lexus” (“Punch Lexi?”) may result in a trip to the emergency room. So while preferences range from tricked-out domestic numbers to swanky imports, there are a couple of fave haunts for finding your own personal greased lightning. These dealerships are more than just asphalt lots filled with sticker shock and bad toupees — they’ve become social gathering hot spots known for their grand parties, over-the-top concierge services, exceptional service and, of course, pricey (but well-worth-it) rides. Besides, where else can you throw around phrases like stick, shaft, and 20-in. rim to a man you just met without running the risk of getting arrested for solicitation?

— Jef Tingley



3900 Cedar Springs Road
Open Monday–Saturday at 10 a.m., Sunday at noon.

Nuvo has long been the store on Cedar Springs Road that straight people would drive to Oak Lawn to shop. Of course, they pull up to the side parking, run in wearing dark glasses and make their quick escape. But it’s been the best gift store in Dallas for years. While most feature gimmicky T-shirts, Nuvo offers an impressive array of jewelry, hand-etched barware, decorative accessories, books, handbags and cards crafted by local artisans. If you haven’t been to the store in a week or two, something new and interesting is sure to be on display.

— David Taffet



Cliff Notes!

1222 W. Davis St.
Open Tuesday–Saturday

Good Records

1808 Greenville Ave.
Open daily

With all of our smart phones, tablets, Twitters, Facebooks and mp3 players controlling our lives, sometimes we just need to get away from it all and unplug. Our recommendation: Take an hour and head to either of these stores for some casual shopping and retro finds. Oak Cliff’s bookstore Cliff Notes!, pictured, is a post-Kindle rarity nowadays: The brick-and-mortar bookstore. The tiny haven for used books (many of gay interest) and record albums recalls bookmobiles from a simpler time. And the random hatpins they have for sale are gorgeous. For less reading, more listening, Lower Greenville’s Good Records isn’t your grandma’s music depot. For an alternative music shop, the selection ranges from popular music to local releases. Their vinyl selection of both new and old is to die for. Plus, with in-store concerts (where they serve beer) and movie nights, Good Records isn’t just good — it’s great.

— Rich Lopez


North Haven Gardens

7700 Northaven Road
Open Monday-Saturday at 9 a.m.,
Sunday at 10 a.m.

North Haven Gardens is much more than a nursery — it’s like heaven on earth. Can’t afford admission and parking to the Arboretum? Shoot, just head here. NHG is an oasis of greenery that is not only displayed lushly and comfortably, but just try not to find what you need for your beds and pots and gardens.  Any flowers, plants and vegetables you need are likely covered, but they also drop knowledge on need-to-know topics like vegetable planting, landscape design and keeping backyard chickens.  Just don’t bring a picnic lunch. It is a store, after all.

— Rich Lopez



3000 Main St.
Open Tuesday–Saturday at noon.

Having fielded an International Mr. Leather winner and a top-three finalist in the past two years, Dallas’ leather reputation is growing by bounds. Nothing against the skills of the winners themselves, but we gotta wonder: How much does having Leather Masters nearby play in those victories? As the premier source of fetish paraphernalia in the area — everything from leather jock straps to whips to paddles — it’s certainly one-stop shopping for the daddy (or boy) in need of perfecting his look. A knowledgeable staff of leather aficionados makes a consult easy for both the experienced leatherman or the newcomer. And despite the toughness of the material, it’s a non-intimidating atmosphere. Don’t be afraid to pop in some time. It could turn your fashion sense (and your comfort level with sexual adventure) upside down.

— Arnold Wayne Jones


All Occasions Florist

3428 Oak Lawn Ave.
Open Monday–Friday at 8 a.m., Saturday at 8:30 a.m.


Red Laser

Barcode scanner app available for iPhone and Android.



4142 Cedar Springs Road (and additional locations)
Open daily at 6 a.m.


Goody Goody

3316 Oak Lawn Ave. (and additional locations)
Open Monday–Saturday at 10 a.m.


Whole Foods

4100 Lomo Alto Drive (and additional locations)
Open daily at 8 a.m.


Nicolas Custom Apparel

Call for appointment.


4001 Cedar Springs Road, Suite C
Open Monday–Saturday at 10 a.m., Sunday at noon.


Turtle Creek Consignments

3738 Haggar Way, Suite 101
Open Monday–Saturday at 10 a.m.

Lula B’s (and an additional location)

2639 Main St.
Open Monday–Saturday at 11 a.m., Sunday at noon.



7171 IKEA Drive, Frisco
Open daily at 10 a.m.


4800 Alpha Road, Addison
Open Monday–Saturday at 10 a.m., Sunday at 1 p.m.


Fashion Optical

3430 Oak Lawn Ave.
Open Monday–Wednesday, Friday at 9 a.m.,
Saturday at 10 a.m.



This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 18, 2011.

—  John Wright